I love October. The weather, the leaves changing color, the candy, the Halloween decorations…
…and the movies. Goddamn, you get to be a horror fan without anyone looking at you like you’re some bugged out dude sitting by the playground. For one month, fright fans are granted carte blanche because it’s “in the spirit of the season” (unless you’re watching the GUINEA PIG films, in which case you’re still just a “weirdo”).
In short, October is badass.
When I kept a personal blog, I used to watch a horror movie each day in October and then write about them at length, just like everyone else who isn’t the Osiris of this Horror Shit, Brian Collins of HMAD. Before that, I’d usually just jot down a list of the films I watched and on what day (fuck your judgement, I like lists). Now I bring this tradition to Very Aware, only I’ve put a bit of a spin on it.
Thirty double features in October — that’s what I’m going to bring you. The dual bills of horror, cult, sci-fi or exploitation that I’m using to ring in my favorite month. Most of these pieces will be quick (a meaty paragraph or so) while others will be full-blown reviews. It all depends on how much I love (or hate) the films.
All of this leads up to my favorite day of the year: the Exhumed Films 24-Hour Horrorthon (October 27th and 28th); an entire day where, from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday, 35 or 16mm prints of great (or horrifyingly awful…depending on the group’s mood) genre films from the 60s, 70s and 80s are projected nonstop with trailers, shorts and other oddities in between. It’s all courtesy of the fine folks in Exhumed Films (Dan Fraga, Jesse Nelson, Harry Guerro and Joseph Gervasi), who have been putting on unbelievable double features for the past fifteen years, and the 24-Hour Thon for five.
For the next two features, I decided to dive headfirst into obscurity and really weird myself out…
Feature #3 – 10/3/12 – A Double Dose of WTF??? (THE VISITOR  & POSSESSION )
I wanted to save this particular double for later, as it’s a pairing of two films that are both reportedly so bizarre that, if viewed in quick succession, the audience member is almost guaranteed to liquify at least the frontal lobe of their brain. I figured that it would be a nice shot in the arm down the line in this project, when my focus and commitment began to wane a bit. But fuck it, I’m diving right in the deep end and, after experiencing the sheer bizarro nature of these films, it is now my mission to try and make each night’s viewings this odd and obscure.
I apologize to any fans of Italian rip-off maestro Giulio Paradisi’s wacko THE VISITOR, as I unfortunately don’t have a whole bunch to say about it. Yes, the movie is utterly batshit. And yes, it does contain a cast that is a film nerd’s wet dream, as Glenn Ford, John Huston, Sam Peckinpah, Lance Henriksen, Shelley Winters, Mel Ferrer and Franco Nero (as Jesus Christ!) all make appearances in roles both big (Huston) and small (Peckinpah, dubbed over as he was reportedly so drunk during filming that he slurred all of his lines). Unfortunately, none of this adds up to a coherent or entertaining film at all. While there are moments that will have even the most hardened lovers of irony slapping their foreheads (the DAMIEN-esque little girl’s profane outbursts are almost worth the cost of admission alone), the film’s scant ninety minute running time seems to drag on for an eternity due to the sheer incoherence of what’s happening onscreen.
And by “incoherence” I don’t mean, “I didn’t get it”. Quite the contrary, actually, as I could see Paradisi was shooting for some sort of strange hybrid of “art film”, XANADU and THE OMEN. Filled with religious symbols and a story outlining the battle between good and evil over a little girl who has…some sort of powers…and might be the key to destroying (or saving) the world, the film is so horribly edited that it feels like the reel-to-reel operator simply dropped acid and started slapping whatever the fuck he could find together in some sort of linear fashion. There are scenes juxtaposed and tone changes that are so sudden that I felt like I was getting whiplash (or simply needed more drugs) to try and keep up with THE VISITOR. Even Dario Argento at his most bizarre (think INFERNO) was an infinitely better storyteller than what Paradisi is here.
Don’t believe me? Check out the this fan edited trailer below (which is the best condensation of what I just saw):
Now POSSESSION, on the other hand, is a fantastic movie, but also doesn’t follow what most average moviegoers would consider “a traditional narrative”. Though where THE VISITOR is just completely inept at nearly every level of production, POSSESSION is more about Polish director Andrzej Zulawski wanting to make you “feel” instead of “follow”. The horrific portrait of a marriage’s utter collapse, POSSESSION is one of the better distillations of pure psychosis I’ve ever seen put to film.
In fact, it’s kind of hard for me to believe that I’d never sat down with this movie before, as Zulawski is a startlingly talented filmmaker and gets some of the most conviction filled performances out of Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani that I’ve ever seen. Cast as the two leads in this marital nightmare, both actors completely hurl themselves head first into the madness happening on screen. And while Sam Neill’s breakdown at finding out his wife has been having an affair is utterly compelling, it’s really Adjani’s decent into mania as she tries to sort out the conflicting emotions that come with infidelity that is the centerpiece of the movie. Adjani is fucking astonishing; delivering a performance that is cranked up to eleven and looks to be one of the most harrowing experiences an artist can ever put themselves through to try and find a center of emotional “truth”.
But as good as our two leads are, they don’t even come close to the utterly bonkers Heinz Bennent. Bennent plays Heinrich, the New Age goofball who is cuckolding Neill’s character, Mark. Bennent comes off like this weird hybrid of Anthony Hopkins and a young Rutger Hauer, caressing Mark when he confronts Heinrich about the affair with Adjani’s Anna before beating Mark’s ass with this weird dance kung-fu that would make Stanley Kubrick cry. Zulawski blocks the entire scene like it’s this outlandishly violent dance number, with Bennent writhing and punching before picking Mark up and slinging him over his shoulder like a boy who’s just fallen off of his bike. In any other film, this would feel remarkably out of place but, somehow, it feels organic in POSSESSION, as the entire movie is almost balletic in how it flows.
Oh and have I mentioned yet that, once Adjani is done with both of her men, she begins fucking a Lovecraftian tentacle monster in a barren, seemingly abandoned, apartment? Zulawski gets you so wrapped up in the disturbing drama of it all that you actually forget, until about an hour in when this begins to happen, that you’re even watching a horror film. What’s incredible, again, is how POSSESSION segues into this whole other “feel” organically as Anna begins to lure men back to the apartment and feed them to the monster (much like Julia “fed” frank in the original HELLRAISER). But the left turn just makes the movie that much more fascinating, as the genre hopping leads to an intense examination after the film as to what is real and what is sheer dementia on Anna’s part.
Zulawski is obviously working some shit out here via celluloid, as POSSESSION falls into the same category of “cinematic catharsis” as Evan Glodell’s BELLFLOWER or Leos Carax’s HOLY MOTORS. It’s a dense, challenging film that uses its horrific symbols to convey the deep, emotional scars left by a passionate relationship’s end, and the way those involved view one another following infidelity. Zulawski’s vision is no doubt dizzying and extreme, but it’s also intoxicating, as he creates a tapestry of dread that cannot be denied. At the end of POSSESSION, I was exhausted and simultaneously elated, as it’s not often you get to see a movie this unique and powerful. Truly deserving of the moniker “one of a kind”, POSSESSION is tough to sit through at times (and tough to act in – as Adjani apparently attempted suicide following production on the film), but those who are able to weather the horrific emotional storm will be that much better for it.
FEATURE #4 – 10/4/12 – Cannibal Flesh Eaters of the Jungle! (JUNGLE HOLOCAUST  & CANNIBAL FEROX )
I love the Italians, and this love will become wholly evident as this series chugs along, as I go back to their most infamous auteurs (Fulci, Deodato, Lenzi) to try and shock myself again and again. Their brand of rip-off exploitation cinema has led to more than a few of the great schlock classics of all-time. But the Italians could also be original (though it was a very rare occurrence), and during the 1970s they pioneered a sub-genre of some of the nastiest, rapiest movies known to man: the “cannibal” films.
Umberto Lenzi (who also directed tonight’s CANNIBAL FEROX) arguably kicked off the sub-genre with MAN FROM DEEP RIVER in 1972 and, in true Italian Cinema fashion, the film was essentially a beat for beat rip of the Richard Harris western, A MAN CALLED HORSE (the story of a white cowboy being forced to live with a hostile tribe of “savages”). DEEP RIVER laid down the rules for the “cannibal” film quite well, as most followed a group of white people who venture into the Amazon for one reason or another (in FEROX, they’re trying to prove that cannibalism no longer exists; JUNGLE HOLOCAUST, they’re oil prospectors), before getting trapped and being forced to exist with the cannibals. Castration, rape and flesh eating usually ensues.
That’s really about it. The Italians set a mold and, like they were so good at doing during the ‘70s, churned out low-budget picture after low-budget picture to try turn themselves a hefty profit. Some were better and more brutal than others, but all of the films pushed the limits of good taste (the graphic slaughter of live animals that was damn near omnipresent ensured their banning from numerous countries). Even some of the great directors of the era, such as Sergio Martino (of DJANGO fame), went on to direct their own entries into the “cannibal” sub-genre (his being a relatively tame affair known as MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD).
CANNIBAL FEROX (a/k/a MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY) is definitely one of the better entries (though not the best, as that crown belongs to Deodato’s nefarious CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST). It follows a relatively straight-forward through-line and has almost likable characters…until we meet two junkie assholes on the run from the mob (thus keeping with the sub-genre’s theme of consummation as punishment for disrespecting the tribes). Though the pacing is a touch off (the middle sags like a mother), it is paid off at the end with some seriously great bloodletting. Yes, there is the goofy way the adventurers get trapped in the jungle (their Jeep gets caught twice in mud puddles), but the horrible scenes that ensue are more than enough for any fan to forgive a momentary bit of silliness.
Now…when I tell people that Ruggerio Deodato is an “important” director, they usually either:
- Have no fucking clue who the dude is
- Know who he is an instantly get scared
JUNGLE HOLOCAUST (a/k/a THE LAST CANNIBAL WORLD) isn’t as graphic as his masterpiece, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but it is just as harrowing and grisly. The film is also a uncomplicated narrative, as it follows three oil prospectors after their plane crashes and they are forced to wander into the jungle. Of course, two are killed, one is captured, and a whole slew of torture, rape and awfulness ensues.
To tell the truth, I know that these movies are really only for a specific subset of horror fans: those who can stomach watching the worst atrocities ever. The “cannibal” genre really does live up to the hype surrounding it, as it feels like these filmmakers all took a fistful of cash and simply spent it on trying to create the most unsettling, repulsive scenarios that they could. But keep in mind that if it weren’t for this sub-genre, almost none of the “found footage” movies we know and love (or hate, depending on your viewpoint) probably wouldn’t exist, as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST pioneered an entirely new way of making a feature.
So, if you’ve got the stomach, try both of these movies out. And if you don’t, that’s cool too. I respect the sub-genre mainly because it isn’t made for everyone, and I feel like that’s a seriously ballsy, brash and near impossible trait to find in the current state of cinema.